After 35 years, Romona Baker retired from her role as a science and physics teacher in 2000, and now, her efforts are focused on helping those in need.
She served as volunteer coordinator 1998–2008 for Rainbow Network, leading more than 15 groups on mission trips to Nicaragua and assisting with grant-writing, fundraising, supply collection and shipping, and filming and production of two videos for the organization. Though she left Rainbow Network for some relaxation and down time, she changed course after a spiritual development conference that included a focus on homeless relief efforts.
Today, Baker is Council of Churches of the Ozarks’ resource coordinator for homeless services, a role she has filled since 2010.
“Romona Baker defies cultural notions of leadership that are often driven by ego needs, titles, wealth and power,” says Mark Struckhoff, executive director of Council of Churches of the Ozarks. Who also worked with Baker at Rainbow Network.
“Romona is persistent, when it comes to serving others, but never pushy. Whether in seeking grants to bring housing and medical assistance to the rural poor in Nicaragua, or in developing Safe to Sleep, Romona’s persistence prevails,” he added.
Through her work at Council of Churches, Baker has frequently encountered women in crisis who have had nowhere to stay overnight.
“I knew that we needed to figure out a way to provide these women with a safe refuge so that they could sleep at night,” Baker says. As a result, she helped create Safe to Sleep, which was launched in 2011 and provides overnight shelter for women who are in crisis or chronically homeless.
“This shelter is a ‘low-barrier’ service with no sign-up required for other supplementary programs,” Baker says. “The women (are) able to seek refuge for any reason.”
As of August, Safe to Sleep – a partnership of Council of Churches, Victory Mission, The Kitchen, One Door and several local churches – has sheltered nearly 250 women, Baker says.
In 2011, Baker became chairwoman of the Homeless Count Task Force, and she also was enlisted to serve on the executive committee of the Continuum of Care, further connecting resources and people.Click here for full coverage of the 2012 Most Influential Women.